How much could the Orioles have improved the Gausman deal?
The Orioles have decided to begin the much-anticipated rebuild. Gone is Schoop, Gausman, Machado, and others. In their stead in the organization are a number of prospects, from Top-100 quality Yusniel Diaz to lower level throw-ins. Some of these players will hopefully be the foundations of the next Orioles’ playoff run. Many more are more likely to be organizational filler. But they all are interesting new pieces for the developmental staff to help mold into better players.
The deal that has garnered the scrutiny from an Orioles’ perspective is the deal that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves for five lower-ranked prospects and $2.5 million in International Bonus money. For a young pitcher with two extra years of control, it seemeed like the return was a little light from the Orioles’ perspective. This is especially in view of the weak starting pitcher market, making Gausman an attractive option even with his faults.
It would seem that the addition of O’Day’s contract is the reason why the team was content with a lower return. Because the Braves were forced to take on extra money, they of course would be less willing to give up more value to obtain essentially the same amount. Now, the question is why the Orioles would want to rid themselves of O’Day’s deal? The team is nowhere near the tax level where payroll could result in lost draft picks. Unless the team thinks they are somehow likely to contend in 2019, that money doesn’t really represent a detrimental cost to the team.
With this is mind, it seems like the team rid itself of a contract that it didn’t need to at the cost of lost prospect value. The question is how much did the Orioles lose? Did the team give up the chance for another player that might help the system? To begin, we have to look at what the Orioles sent out.
Kevin Gausman has been a servicable pitcher for the Orioles, but the team always hoped for more. Understandable, especially since he was a top-20 prospect according to Baseball America prior to his rookie season. He earned $5.6 million in his second year of arbitration and put up a 4.43 ERA and 1.3 fWAR in 124 innings for the Orioles this season.
He is under contract for two more years of arbitration, so his salary is unknown going forward. Assuming his ends up with 0.7 fWAR for the Braves and 3.0 fWAR (Optimistic, but possible) in each of the next two seasons, we can estimate that Gausman would be looking at approximately $21 million in salary between the next two years. Combined with the $2 million remaining on Gausman’s 2018 salary, this leaves the Braves on the hook for around $23 million in salary for Gausman.
Darren O’Day’s season was cut short by a hamstring injury sustained by fielding a bunt, resulting in season-ending surgery at the end of June. While he is expected to return in 2019—when he will earn $9 million—his $3 million remaining salary is a sunk cost for the Braves.
All told, the Braves are going to outlay an estimated total of $35 million of salary between Gausman and O’Day. These estimates are based on the assumption that Gausman puts up a total of 6.6 fWAR over the next two-plus seasons. While that 3.0 fWAR per season would represent Gausman’s best season performance of his career, this is not unreasonable considering that he is no longer pitching in Oriole Park and will not have a third of his starts occur against the AL East. Further, let’s assume that O’Day comes back to put up 0.5 fWAR in his free agent walk year of 2019. All told, this would mean that the Braves would get 7.1 fWAR of value out of Gausman and O’Day, a value of $60 million for the team—using the $8.5 million per WAR.
This means that for an estimated $35 million dollar investment, the Braves are in line for an estimated $60 million return. In total, this is a $25 million surplus value for the Braves. Now, to know what the Orioles might have gained had they not included O’Day, we need to see what they received in return.
||Estimated Surplus Value
Valuing prospects in monetary terms is a notoriusly difficult questions, but many people have attempted it. For this piece, I will be using Dave Cameron’s work on the subject. To account for the prospects traded in the Gausman deal, I am going to assume that future value 45+ prospects will have a surplus value of $15 million for hitters and $13 million for pitchers, while 40+ prospects have a value of $5 million and all other prospects with future value 40 and below do not contribute to surplus value.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel looked into the prospects traded over the deadline, and in their evaluation there were two prospects traded who were 40+ or better prospects. Brett Cumberland, a bat-first catcher who ranked 12th in the Braves’ farm system going into the season, was evaluated as a 45+ future value. Jean Carlos Encarnacion is enjoying a breakout year after beginning the season as the 32nd-best prospect in a deep Braves system. He now represents a 40+ future value for the team, and has gotten off to a quick start at Delmarva.
These two prospects, both hitters, represent a surplus value of $20 million dollars for the Orioles. However, their contributions pale in comparison to the potential gain represented by the $2.5 million in International Bonus money. The fans naturally hope that this money will result in Victor Victor Mesa. While there are many complications that may prevent his signing, for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that Mesa is able to establish residency outside Cuba and the Orioles are indeed able to close the deal. Mesa is scouted by McDaniel and Longenhagen to be a 45+ player, with a ceiling that is admittedly much higher. Assuming that he is indeed a 45+ player, this means that the total surplus value of the Orioles side of things is $35 million.
|Jean Carlos Encarnacion
|Victor Victor Mesa
When one considers the volatility of prospects and the value of a dollar today versus tomorrow, this all seems to be a very fair deal for both sides. However, what if we removed O’Day? That increases the Braves surplus value to $33.1 million, which allowing again for inflation etc., would mean that an equivalent return for the Orioles would be in the range of $40-45 million in surplus value.
That means we have $5-10 million in extra surplus to get for the Orioles. On the low end, what say we add Freddy Tarnok, a 40-40+ 19-year old with a fastball that touches 98 an above-average breaking ball. On the high end, Bryce Wilson is a 20-year old who went from High-A to Triple-A this year and is striking out over 10 per nine innings on the season. If you’d rather not add players, maybe we can upgrade the three 40 future value guys to, say, Joey Wentz. Wentz stands just outside FanGraphs Top 100 prospects and has a future value of 50. He already has a plus changeup and advanced pitchability. All these possible additions would be excellent adds to the new farm system that the Orioles are building.
While the Gausman deal did represent an important propsect haul for the Orioles, it could have been greater. By no worrying about dumping O’Day’s 2019 salary, they would have been likely able to add an intriguing additional prospect or upgrade some of the lesser pieces to a single, greater piece with a higher chance of impacting the major league team. Regardless, while the team’s shift in mindset is important going forward, this deal illustrates that the shift is still a work in progress.